Today on the site we have an excerpt from Crier’s War by Nina Varela, a YA fantasy with a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers f/f romance set against a political backdrop that just released on October 1! First, check out the book:
Like all Automae, Crier was made to be perfect. Her design was created and approved by her father, the sovereign King Hesod of Rabu. However, when her new fiancé presents her with proof that there is a flaw in her design—one that shows she has the very human trait of passion—she worries it will lead to her downfall. For years, Ayla has been quietly plotting her revenge, after being born into subjugation. In Rabu, humans are inferior to Automae and considered second-class citizens. Hesod took Ayla’s family, so she intends to take his—by killing Crier.
Then, one fateful night, Ayla ends up saving Crier’s life instead. Out of gratitude or curiosity, Crier requests Ayla as her new handmaiden. And though Ayla tells herself she only accepted the position to infiltrate her enemies, she starts to realize that Crier is nothing like she previously believed. But as humans and Automae are on the brink of war, Ayla and Crier’s relationship may be a catalyst for a battle that could end all of civilization.
And here’s the excerpt!
Benjy opened his mouth to say something else, but Rowan cut him off. “Stars and skies, birdy,” she said, her brown eyes lit up in the sunlight. She looked less like a sparrow and more like . . . like a warrior, fierce and brilliant and flush with hope. Like the warrior she had been in past uprisings; like the warrior she would be again. The revolutionary, the leader. “Ayla, my love,” she said. “This is incredible, this is—this is the best chance we’ve had in years. You can be our eyes and ears on the inside, love. Stationed right at the heart of the spider’s nest, imagine that. And—personal handmaiden to Lady Crier? Gods, it’s like they want a coup.”
“So you think I should use my position,” said Ayla, unable to keep the triumph out of her voice, even as she saw Benjy’s scowl deepen. “You think I should be a mole.”
“Yes,” said Rowan. “Yes, gods, of course. Though”—here her voice changed a little, grew harder—“it will be dangerous. Ayla, you have to focus on the Scyre. He’s the one with knowledge about the Iron Heart. Maybe he’s even got a map of the Aderos Mountains, or of the trade routes, a ledger of all the heartstone traders, something, anything. Whatever you can find, it’ll be valuable.” She grinned, sharp and bright, and cupped Ayla’s face in both hands, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “You clever girl. Oh, you clever, fearsome girl.”
Ayla grinned back, but her mind was already spinning. Was it possible? Was there a chance that Scyre Kinok really did have a map of the Aderos Mountains—a map that could lead them to the Iron Heart itself?
If he did . . .
No more white dresses hanging over the marketplace like ghosts.
Because humans wouldn’t have to kill Automae to set themselves free. The Automae would die, all at once. During Ayla’s first year working under Sovereign Hesod, the orchards had nearly been wiped out by an infestation of locusts. It was an unusually hot spring: the kind of spring where the end of winter felt less like a rebirth, like shaking the weight of snow off your shoulders and emerging lighter for it, and more like a slow descent into boiling water. The air was thick and wet as steam. Sometimes it ached even to breathe. When the locusts came, settling over the orchards like a living, buzzing shadow, even they seemed a little exhausted by the heat. They ate slowly: first the budding fruits, then the blossoms, then the leaves. They ate nonstop for days. All the servants were panicking, because no one knew what to do about the loss of the fruit harvest. And what happened when the locusts stripped the fruit trees bare? Would they fly away, or would they just migrate to the gardens? The fields of barley and sea lavender? Would the entire year’s crop be devoured?
It was Nessa—the head servant—who saved them. Nessa who got the idea to spray the locusts with clouds of poisoned water. It wouldn’t hurt the trees—and besides, most of them were already naked and dead-looking—but it began to kill the locusts the second it touched their shiny green skin.
Within a single day, the trees were empty. The dirt below their branches was littered with millions of dead, silent locusts, their bodies piled ankle-deep. Ayla was one of the servants assigned to clearing them away. Barefoot, she waded through the orchards, filling her basket over and over again with corpses and then loading the baskets onto a cart, dragging the cart out to the bluffs, tossing the contents of each basket over the edge and into the waiting sea. The locusts’ tiny iridescent wings caught the sunlight as they fell; with each basket, Ayla felt like she was pouring out a cascade of glittering gemstones.
One day’s work and all the locusts were dead; the orchards were saved.
That was what would happen if the Iron Heart was destroyed, if the Automae were deprived of heartstone dust. One day’s work. A living shadow lifted.
Ayla blinked. Realized Rowan was still watching her, waiting for her response. Benjy wasn’t looking at either of them. He was staring at the dirt floor, jaw working.
“I’m going to work for Lady Crier,” said Ayla. “I’m going to spy on the Scyre and learn everything I can about the Iron Heart.”
“What about your revenge?” Benjy mumbled.
“I won’t be rash,” she promised. There was no point in telling Benjy that the fire in her hadn’t diminished—had grown, even. This killing fire inside her—he didn’t need to know just how long and cruel it had been burning. Just how charred and scarred she was. Somewhere in the back of her mind, her brother’s voice echoed. Act only when the odds are on your side, Ayla. Gamble with bread and coins, not your life. “I swear to you, Benjy,” she said. “I won’t do anything to Hesod or Crier until I’ve found enough information to destroy the Iron Heart. I won’t let my revenge compromise the Revolution.”
Rowan patted her cheek, beaming. “That’s my girl.”
And even though her eyes were still watering from the terrible stench of the latrines, even though the idea of serving Crier disgusted her, even though part of her wasn’t sure she’d be able to find any information on the Heart at all . . . For the first time since that day, Ayla had a plan. Not just the nebulous, half-formed notion of I want to hurt Hesod. I want to take away his family like he took away mine. But a real plan. Something so much bigger than Crier, Hesod, Kinok, even herself. It felt like—like this was what she was meant to do.
Her heart was lit up with something quick and hot. A lightning storm inside her.
Somewhere along the line, she’d forgotten how it felt to begin.
Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.